NEW FAIRFIELD – The Board of Selectmen held a special meeting on May 3 to discuss a petition submitted to the Town on April 17. The petition, signed by 60 New Fairfield registered voters, calls for a vote to pass an ordinance that would require a special town meeting to be called for residents to vote on whether or not to authorize the Town to use chemicals in Candlewood Lake.
The Board decided to reject the petition after consulting with attorneys at Pullman & Comley. The reason given was such an ordinance as described within the petition would usurp the authority of the public health inspector to protect the town and its residents from health risks, as stipulated by state statute. An outbreak of blue green algae would be an example of such a health risk. The ordinance as proposed would potentially prevent the town’s public health inspector, Tim Simpkins, from taking action until a town meeting was held to approve it.
The decision was met with disapproval, outrage and anger from the more than 25 members of the public in attendance who questioned why the Board would not listen to its constituents. Those in attendance expressed concern and confusion as to why the Board seems set to continue down the path of using chemicals in Candlewood to combat Eurasian milfoil growth. When the Board was asked for a copy of the attorney’s opinion, First Selectman Susan Chapman indicated that it would be provided to anyone who filled out a Freedom of Information request with her office.
The controversy stems from a proposal put forth last October by the Board of Selectmen to treat the Eurasian milfoil outbreak in Candlewood Lake with the herbicide Diquat and to combat blue-green algae blooms with a copper sulfate algaecide. At a public hearing on October 13, 2016 the Board requested the appropriation of $30,000 to the “Cap & Non” budget line under the designation of “Lake Studies”. This was part of the proposed application of a budget surplus for fiscal year 2015-16 to several different budget line items.
On October 20, 2016, SOLitude Lake Management delivered a proposal to the Town of New Fairfield for a test program to deploy an herbicide containing Diquat. According to the proposal the first test site would consist of 40 to 50 acres and would “extend from Knollcrest Road around Chatterton Point, past the Town Park and then around the northern end of Candlewood Isle.” The second area “is the Shelter Harbor cove, which is approximately 10 acres in size.”
According to the SOLitude proposal, the test treatment was developed to work together with the sterile grass carp program initiated in 2015 by the Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA) and the five towns with shorelines on Candlewood Lake—New Fairfield, Sherman, Danbury, New Milford and Brookfield.
The proposal brought about a negative response from many residents, particularly those living on or near the lakeshore. The primary concern was over the proposed use of chemicals. The other major objection posed by residents has been the perceived lack of transparency in the process by the Board of Selectmen and the Board’s apparent unwillingness to work with the CLA and the four neighboring towns.
An informational hearing was held March 2 at Meeting House Hill School. Due to the primarily negative feedback from those attending the session, and DEEP’s approval of the release of 4,450 additional grass carp into the lake this summer, the Board scaled back its proposal. The new proposal was that no copper sulfate algaecide would be put into Candlewood, and Diquat would only be put in Shelter Harbor Cove.
When asked what the next step would be for those residents that put forth the petition, lake advocate John McCartney indicated that the group would have to file a Freedom of Information inquiry for the attorney’s opinion and forward it to their attorney for review.
More information will be published in next week’s print edition of the Town Tribune.
Story by Greg Slomba